Author: Evan X Hyde (I would like to use my column space in this issue to reproduce an essay I found this week among my papers. The essay appears to have been written in 2007, because it refers to the Cuban Revolution as having taken place 48 years before. I suppose the essay must have been written for a special occasion, because it is twice as long as what my column would usually be. Please put in the reading work and consider these thoughts which were presented five years ago.)
In Belize, it is possible to be a so-called Creole without a single drop of European blood, but it is not possible to be a so-called Creole without an amount of African blood. The UBAD Educational Foundation (UEF) prefers to refer to ourselves as African people, which is really African people in the Diaspora.
Our ancestors were brought to the settlement of Belize to provide labor for the extraction of timber from the forests. We were brought here, beginning roughly three hundred and fifty years ago, chained in the bottom of slave ships after having been captured on the coasts and in the interior of West Africa. Those lands of our origin are known today as Senegal, Sierra Leone, Gambia, Ghana, Nigeria, Cameroons, Angola and so on.
In the beginning, there was no need for the slavemasters to divide us, because we were already divided. We were from many different tribes, spoke many different languages and practiced many different religions. As time went on, we became even more divided in that some of our women were taken by the white men, and so we saw the birth of brown Creoles. That must have been where the vague description and designation of so-called “Creole,” originated.
Our ancestors first cut down logwood trees for the slavemasters, and tied them together, first with ropes and then with chains, and floated the logs down the Belize Old River and through the Haulover Creek to Belize, which was the original port of the settlement. The logs were towed out to ships, which sailed, later steamed to the United States and Great Britain. When the logwood business declined because of the invention of synthetic dyes, mahogany became the hardwood of value, and some cedar.
Until a half century ago, then, in Belize we Africans were a mahogany majority, so to speak, but today we are clearly a marginalized minority. We have been unable to assess our changing situation properly, because the system of education is controlled by the churches, which are in bed with the descendants of the slavemasters, which is to say – white supremacy.
Since the Cuban Revolution in 1959, the Cuban people, who have a higher percentage of African population than Belize now possesses, by dint of extreme sacrifice and hard work, have moved their education and health systems from Third World quality to First World standard. The education and health systems in Cuba are as good as anything in the United States, and probably better.
Over those same 48 years, the education and health systems in Belize, especially amongst the African population, have become worse than they already were. Yet we have Belizean leaders who are African in descent who publicly criticize the Cuban Revolution. We are ignorant in Belize, but we believe that we are educated. This is the message of Smokey Joe.
Now during those centuries when we worked in the forests, on the rivers, on the boats, in the sawmills, and on the waterfront, to enrich mahogany contractors and the Belize Estate and Produce Company, we Africans began to forge bonds of unity, even though we had originated from different tribes who spoke different languages and practiced different religions.
The unity was taking place on two class tracks. The roots blacks were creating the Creole language, composing brukdown music, and “showing weself”, in food, dress, dance, and sports. The brown blacks, on the other track, were chasing the European dream. They were trying to take on European characteristics. So we had two sets of so-called Creoles seeking progress, but on different class tracks.
In the first part of the twentieth century, the brown blacks began to take over the public service from the white expatriates. The Englishmen were still in charge, but it was Africans, those who had been Europeanized enough, who effectively ran the colony of British Honduras for the colonial masters in Britain.
These brown blacks began to develop something of an “attitude”. They began to think they were really in charge. At the base of the African pyramid, however, every single generation of roots Africans rebelled, at least since we have recorded history in Belize. There were serious and violent rebellions in the tiny colony in 1894, 1919, 1934, 1972 and 1981.
About fifty or sixty years ago it became obvious that the mahogany trees were running out. Neither the British or their local contractor counterparts had ever bothered to replant any trees. It takes a mahogany tree seventy five years to mature.
We were a mahogany majority, because our power in the colony was based, ultimately, on mahogany. When the mahogany began to decline, our real African power here declined.
The revolt against British colonialism which began in 1950 did not include the public service class of so-called Creoles. They were not educated in history, and thus did not realize that African power in Belize was derived from mahogany, not from the clerical public service. As the masses of Belizeans fought for a new order of things, the administrative class of Africans fought to defend British colonialism. This pro-British fight became a losing fight, so educated Africans began to migrate to the United States. There, they benefited from the skilled jobs which were being opened up for blacks because of the civil rights struggle of black Americans.
Hurricane Hattie in 1961 marked the beginning of a serious exodus of both classes of Africans - clerical and manual labour – to America.
The economy of Belize was changing from a forestry base to an agricultural base – dominated by sugar cane and citrus. The mahogany majority of Africans preferred to migrate instead of experimenting with farming. Swarms of Central Americans were taken into Belize to work the sugar cane, citrus and banana farms. The mahogany majority became a marginalized minority.
The churches had no answer for Africans except their Europeanized version of Jesus. The churches were so powerful they could make or break politicians. The clerics controlled the political parties where their education policies were concerned. The Belizean people have therefore been systematically mis-educated.
In confusion, young Africans turned to the drug trade, which meant crazy African-against-African violence. Some say the answer is tourism, but the jobs considered for Africans are generally menial and degrading, compared to those important jobs held by Africans in the mahogany days. Africans have done well in fishing, but tourism investments by non-African moguls are threatening the fishing industry. Africans from the brown class are doing well in information technology and offshore banking fields. These Africans are not pursuing the European dream of their parents and grandparents, but they are materialistic and hedonistic. They have little consciousness of self-and-kind.
I have tried to give you a sense of what has happened to Africans in the last 50 years in Belize. I have used the UEF model of analysis. This is a model rejected by both the two major political parties, because they cannot afford to challenge the churches.
We Africans know that the majority of our people have been marginalized. We know that our people are in crisis, and that we are fighting for our survival in this country.
The key to survival is education, but education in Belize is controlled by white supremacists. When Fidel Castro gained control of the educational system in Cuba, he was able to take Cuba to the highest levels in skills training.
Belize does not have a revolutionary history like Cuba’s. So we have to rely on our system of parliamentary democracy to implement change. The UBAD Educational Foundation has used the facilities we control – newspaper, library, radio and television, to educate our citizens as much as we can. An increasingly educated Belizean populace has been calling for new political parties to challenge the duopoly of the blue and the red.
This is good. The new parties represent the beginning of change. White supremacy will, of course, fight to bring the third parties into line. This is a fight, of resistance for us Africans, which is as old as slavery and colonialism. It is a fight which began before our personal lifetimes on planet earth, and it is a fight which will last beyond our lifetimes. We are a part of a great people, and we reach out to those of other peoples who share our struggle for freedom, justice and equality in Belize.
Power to the people. Amandala